Almost a decade after the foundation of the East Meon History Group, and on the verge of the publication of a major book, Farming the Valley, Michael Blakstad looks back at the development of one of the most successful local interest groups in the county.
A small informal group was founded in 2010, largely because the original East Meon village website had received a number of queries from people all round the world asking for information about their ancestors and other questions about the history of the parish. Initially, the group met in the living rooms of members and membership was confined to 25. In 2011 we held talks in All Saints Church Hall and membership gradually increased. The annual subscription was originally £10 but was increased to £15 to cover the cost of hiring the venue and paying outside speakers.
Today the group offers a full programme of events, talks and visits; it has also conducted research into aspects of the history of East Meon: House Histories in 2011/12, the Great War in 2015 and Farming the Valley, which started in 2016 and will culminate in the publication in November 2019 of an illustrated book of that title.
The aim of the group is to remain small and informal, focussing on local history of East Meon, and to promote the village as a destination for local history groups and researchers.
Between September and May each year the Group organises talks on various topics, usually relating to local history, and visits to sites of historical interest. Talks are given by guest speakers, usually historians, and others by members of the group and villagers.
Spring and Autumn visits are arranged each year to historical sites in the vicinity of East Meon. A specialist guides a group of between a dozen and 20 members and guests. Locations visited include the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, Jane Austen’s House, the Mary Rose Museum, the D-Day Control Room at Southwick Park, Winchester Cathedral and Fishbourne Roman Villa, while we have walked around the Arts and Crafts buildings of Bedales School and Steep, and Froxfield Entrenchments.
In addition to its programme of talks and visits, the group undertakes a range of research, exhibitions, guided walks, oral histories, open days and archaeological surveys; we also work with East Meon C of E Primary School, supporting their learning of local history. We have twice secured grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund to support these activities.
The findings of research conducted by members are digested into research reports which are available as PDFs on www.eastmeonhistory.net/history-group/reports. These are detailed studies containing references to sources, bibliographies and appendices. Articles are written for the village magazine and for local history journals.
The group has collected and indexed memorabilia and other source materials relating to the history of East Meon. We have a physical archive of photographs and papers (and have donated others to the HRO) but our main collection is digital, most of which is available online on our second website, www.eastmeonhistory.org.uk. A Dewey Decimal system of indexing has been used for the paper archive but items entered into the digital archive are automatically referenced and tagged with keywords, enabling search engines to find items. Currently (2019) each site receives approximately 700 visits a month, mainly from overseas and the group responds to queries; some of our correspondents provide content about their East Meon antecedents which they have researched.
Committee and governance
Since its inception, the group has been administered by a committee of members who have taken responsibility for its finances, its website and IT, its programme of meetings and visits and its research and other activities. The committee meets four times a year and holds an AGM in November. We have a written constitution. Members currently pay a subscription of £20 a year which covers the maintenance and hosting of two websites in addition to the cost of hiring the church hall and fees to outside speakers and.
Membership currently stands at 50 and non-members are invited to attend talks and to contribute £5 at the door. We have been successful in securing three substantial grants, two from the Heritage Lottery Fund and one from the Hampshire Archives Trust. The first HLF grant covered the creation of our digital archive, which included commissioning the online library which contains the bulk of our records. The second enabled us to hire a cartographer to illustrate Farming the Valley. The HAT grant covered the cost of designing and printing the 200-page book due out in November 2019 and of archiving over 4,000 images and source documents compiled during the research.
Contributed July 2019
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